Discrimination games



How to offer our dogs to use their nose to find an object which is marked with a specific odour, among other objects (visually equally or different).


  • An object with an odour which is appreciated by our dog,
  • Other objects with neutral odours,
  • Spaghetti’s pliers or other tools to displace the objects without leaving a trace of an odour,
  • Treats which are appreciated by our dog.

Description and evolution

For the game described below, let’s assume that we have 4 identical socks, which we have washed (use the most neutral products possible and avoid the marked scents) in order to rid them of any parasitic odour. One of them is marked by our smell, the other 3 remain as neutral as possible.

Step 1 : we choose a quiet room of the house (in which he feels comfortable). We start by getting our dog interested in the sock with our odour. After kneading the sock in our hands for 4 to 5 seconds (if it is too long, our dog may get impatient and abandon us with our sock), we put it on the floor, in front of our dog. As soon as he is interested in it(looks at it, approaches it, sniffs it, touches it muzzle or paw, takes it in his mouth, …), we give him a reward . We start again until our dog is interested in the sock systematically, and in the most committed way (each dog will naturally propose a marking: to touch with the paw, look at it and bark or take it in the mouth). If we want that our dog marks the target in a specific way (for example by barking), we will teach him this behavior during specific play sessions.

play-video Video: Mark of interest for the object

Step 2 : in the same room, we add a second sock (“neutral” sock). To avoid that the neutral sock takes our odour, we can use a spaghetti pliers or a glove for instance. We put it clearly visible on the floor, to +- 20 cm from the first sock. We can also refresh the odour of the first sock taking it in hand 1 to 2 seconds. We give a treat each time our dog is interested in the “right” sock (the one which bears the odour of our hands). If our dog is interested in the “wrong” sock, we do not react (no smile, laugh, movement,…). We remain impassive to the wrong proposals. 

play-video Video: 2 socks in the bathroom            

play-video Video: spices in glasses for Diana

Step 3 : in the same room, we add a third sock (“neutral” odour), to +- 20 cm from the other ones. We give a treat each time our dog is interested in the “right” sock. We remain impassive to the wrong proposals. We displace the socks only with the spaghetti pliers, with a random chronology. If we put systematically the “right” sock in first or last, our dog will learn quickly that the first sock or the last sock and he would not use his nose.

Only one paramater changes between two steps of the exercise : either the number of objects or environment.

Step 4 : we can try and change the area of search, the garden for instance. We give a treat each time our dog is interested in the “right” sock and we remain impassive to the wrong proposals…

When a new parameter creates too much difficulty (change of environment for instance), it is possible to decrease the level of difficulty of one of the other parameters (by using only 2 socks: one with the specific odour and the other one withe neutral odour).

play-video Video: 2 socks in the garden

play-video Video: 2 glasses with spices in the garden

Step 5 : to increase progressively the number of socks.

play-video Video: 3 socks

play-video Video: 4 socks

Next steps : start again from the step 1… with new objects and other odours.

What if our dogs were able to find a tissue scented with paprika, among other tissue scented with salt, cinnamon or thyme? Or find a garment freshly marked with our smell in the middle of other clothes also marked with our smell, but older? Of course they can!

Evitons les contaminations olfactives en utilisant une pince à spaghetti

Evitons les contaminations olfactives en utilisant une pince à spaghetti

play-video Video: Fripouille is searching a blue sock (fresher odour) in blue clothes, born by the same person


Learning without pressure

The sessions are imperatively very short (less then 5 minutes and maximum 3 sessions a day).  Each session of nose work requires a lot of focus. Long sessions or many repetitive sessions lead to failure. The best way is to stop on a positive note, even the last offered game was very easy. The beginners need time to develop their skills. And let’s not forget that learning takes place optimally when the dog is not stressed and therefore not put under pressure.

In the same vein, it is useless to “motivate” our dog by repeating the request (“search” for example). While our dog is focused on the treat search, he mainly uses his eyesight and his nose. Repeating “search”, “search”, “search” distracts him and floods his ears and his brain with useless information. It’s just distraction, not motivation.

Be careful with the “false” olfactive cues ! For instance, for a game of discrimination with our own odour, it is important that the other objects DO NOT BEAR our odour. If we pick up the objets, even with the tip of the fingers, we put olfactive mark which can cause confusions.

Be careful with the cues of gesture ! Let’s avoid to put systematically the “right” object in first, for instance. Our dog will learn quickly that the first object is the right one, and he would not use his nose.

You do not need to help him, for example by pointing to the treats you see. The purpose of the game is that our dog develops his nose skills, this is not a game of speed or performance. When our dog stops searching, the game is over either temporarily because he just needs a break, or definitely depending on our dog. It is important to respect his learning rhythm.

Let’s also respect his rhythm of recovery: after a busy weekend, our dog needs more rest. The ideal is to offer our dog an easier search game: some treats scattered at home or in the lawn will do the job.

Those who do not cope

If our dog is not interested in the game, it raises the question: does he like the treats we offer him? It’s up to us to offer him treats that live up to his expectations.

If our dog is not interested in the object, let’s ask us how to make it more interesting. With a sock, we can for instance put treats inside it and knot the end. It’s up to us to offer an interesting and attractive object.

If our dog loves these treats and objects but is not interested in this search, it may be because it’s too difficult for him (physically if our dog is old, sick or hurt / emotionally if our dog is not comfortable in the environment for example / if we have skipped steps in the progression of learning). It’s up to us to offer them a game that lives up to their physical and / or emotional abilities.

Some dogs may also accept the game with some objects but not with others: metal keys for instance are not nice to pick up in a mouth. However, if our dog likes “too much” the object, he will keep it and refuse to give it. During next sessions, we will choose equipment which is not too appreciated by our dog. We can also teach him to give on request during specific play sessions.

If our dog makes a lot of mistakes, let’s check that we have not added a parasitic odour on the used objects. If the game consists in selecting an object which carries our odour, have we not unfortunately contaminated the other objects with our odour or the odour of the rewards? Let’s take a pile of laundry that smells of the same person, and ask our dog to find a cooler sock in it. An expert dog will be able to solve this game, but not a beginner dog.


  • To offer treats which are appreciated by our dog ;
  • To offer an object which is appreciated by our dog ;
  • To improve the difficulty’s level, step by step ;
  • No pressure ;
  • To organize short sessions ;
  • To choose games which are adapted to the needs, expectations and abilities of our dog ;
  • To pay attention to “parasite” odours.
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